Oxford, Miss. – Mississippi State runs the chip.
Now, does Lane Kiffin run off the chip? He says no.
If Kiffin was planning to take his final bow Thursday night at Wade-Hemingway Stadium, the Bulldogs crashed the party like an unwelcome wedding guest guzzling all the whiskey at an open bar.
This egg bowl was ugly. There are many.
It rained throughout the second half. Offense often seemed like a foreign concept to both teams.
Mississippi State’s defense became a star. The Bulldogs provided a flurry of red-zone stops.
Needing one final stop, Bulldogs senior Randy Charlton deflected a shovel pass on a two-point play that Ole Miss should have tied late in the fourth quarter.
For the first time in Mike Leach’s tenure, the Golden Eggs head to Starkville after a 24-22 victory.
Where is Kiffin going? Anywhere, if we take him at his word.
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Note that:Ole Miss football defensive tackle JJ Pegues catches a touchdown pass in the Egg Bowl.
The Ole Miss coach was widely seen as the front-runner to start Auburn’s practice, and questions about his future loomed over the Egg Bowl, but he said after the game that he plans to stay at Ole Miss.
I asked Kiffin directly: If Auburn offers him the coaching job, does he expect to coach Ole Miss next season?
“I do,” he said without hesitation.
By Egg Bowl standards, this was a game without hijinks. No. 20 Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4 SEC) has had what can only be described as a wacky week. That went off the rails after WCBI-TV reported Monday that Kiffin planned to take the Auburn job after the Egg Bowl. Kiffin responded with a series of tweets in which he mocked the journalist who reported the story.
Still, Kiffin never said the words Ole Miss fans needed to hear — he signed a contract extension to be the Rebels’ coach. Amidst all his tweets, he never denied his interest in Auburn.
Kiffin publicly pledged his commitment to Ole Miss after the Egg Bowl. He called the TV report a “false report” and said he told his players this week.
After two games, he said he plans to coach Ole Miss next season.
Kiffin is anything but predictable, and for more than a decade, he’s turned Tennessee down. So, some suspense lingers until Auburn announces a mission.
If Kiffin leaves, his final contribution to Ole Miss will be a failure.
Kiffin has a bright mind on offense, but you wouldn’t know that Thursday, especially in a soggy second half.
The night belonged to the Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4) — and, in particular, to Zach Arnett’s defense. MSU bottled up Ole Miss’ monstrous rushing attack.
Six Ole Miss drives penetrated the 35-yard line. Only two went for touchdowns.
Kiffin often plays the part of the riverboat gambler, but he’s projected a more conservative approach to much of this game. It mostly worked until he elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, with Ole Miss clinging to a 16-14 lead. The Rebels ran a play-action pass, but no receivers ran routes.
“We had a miscommunication,” Ole Miss quarterback Jackson Dart said.
Converts on fourth down and punches in a touchdown, Ole Miss wins.
Take the field goal and Ole Miss will probably win.
Run a play-action pass with no one to throw to, and Ole Miss loses.
The drive, which began at MSU’s 36-yard line, produced no points. The Bulldogs took the lead on their next possession. They never surrendered it.
Ole Miss’ defense deserves a better fate. Otis Reese intercepted a pass. Davies Robinson and Troy Brown fumbled. The defensive line harassed Will Rogers. But a Rebels defense that bounced back a week after being beaten by Arkansas didn’t get any help from Ole Miss’ offense.
Arnett’s defense didn’t get much help, but enough, and Rogers found an open Rara Thomas for a key touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The narrative of MSU’s season hinges on this game. Leech could not lose this tournament for the third consecutive season. Arnett’s defense made sure he didn’t.
The Bulldogs endured one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but they had an experienced roster and a third-year starting quarterback. They had a 5-1 record to open the season, so going 7-5 and a lackluster bowl would have felt like a wasted opportunity.
Coaches say the winners will be remembered in November. Well, State went 3-1 in November, winning the most important game on its schedule for the first time since 2019.
The Bulldogs are now an attractive candidate for the Citrus Bowl.
More importantly, they regain control of the chip while Ole Miss waits for Kiffin’s next move.
Blake Topmeyer SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Send him an email [email protected] And follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.
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